How Michaela Harte’s death inspired love and hate
By: Niall O'Dowd | Published Wednesday, January 26, 2011, 10:40 AM | Updated Friday, September 9, 2011, 10:03 PM
If you wanted both a story of inspiration and one that will depress you, look no further than the tragic death of Tyrone woman Michaela Harte on her honeymoon in Mauritius where she was murdered earlier this month.
She was the daughter of Mickey Harte, the inspirational manager of the Tyrone GAA football ream who led the side to three All-Ireland titles.
This is not about the family and the incredible resilience and bravery that the Harte family showed after Michaela was murdered by thieves who broke into her room.
Rather it is about two Protestants and their reaction to the events surrounding her death.
First, let us consider the case of former Loyalist paramilitary leader Winston Rea, who once was convicted for his part in the murder of two Catholics.
He was so moved by Michaela’s death and her family’s response that he personally went to the funeral to pay respects to the family.
As he told the Belfast Telegraph, “We all have our own daughters and granddaughters, and everyone was moved by what happened to say the least.
“Some of us would have a past, including myself, but none of us would like it if something tragic like that happened to someone in our families. This was not about publicity, it was about showing support to a grieving family who lost a wife, daughter and sister in very tragic circumstances.
“The committee of 1st Shankill Northern Ireland Supporters Club held an extraordinary meeting on Friday night, and it was decided that we wanted to deliver two sympathy cards, one to the Harte family and one to the McAreaveys. I was more than proud and honored to be asked to deliver the cards.
“When I got there I was touched by how warmly welcomed I was into the Harte family home.”
He met Sinn Fein Minister Martin McGuinness, once one of his deadliest enemies.
“Martin McGuinness recognized me and came straight over and held out his hand to me. I took his hand and I felt a very warm sensation,” Rea said.
“He spoke very kind words to me. He said, ‘It is really nice to see you here and I’m very glad that you made the journey.’ And he said that I would be warmly received by the whole county of Tyrone.
“I will treasure those words for a long time because I know he was being totally sincere. His approach to me spoke volumes.”
Rea was part of the Loyalist leadership that delivered the 1994 Loyalist paramilitary ceasefire which helped transform Northern Ireland.
Inside he was met by a Harte family member.
“I said who I was and who I was representing. When that person heard that, he immediately called over other family members who stood by my side for the whole duration I was there,” Rea said.
“I really appreciated the hospitality. Even on a sad day, I was very warmly received.
“I was then asked if I would go up to see Mickey and other family in the room where Michaela lay in an open coffin. As I walked by Michaela I said a few prayer words into myself.
“At the head of the coffin on a stool was her daddy Mickey. I introduced myself, and like Martin McGuinness, he held his hand out and took mine.
The whole time we talked he held my hand.
“He thanked me and said how pleased he was to see me. I then went to shake hands with the rest of the immediate family, and there was her husband John. I stopped and spoke to him and he gave me a warm handshake and thanked me for making the journey.
“Even for all they were going through they were all very welcoming. I was very touched.”
Rea’s visit shows how far the North has come in a very short time -- a sense of common humanity has grown up that allows both sides the ability to see each other.
On the other side, however, is the remnant of the hatred that still exists in parts of Northern Ireland.
A newspaper photographer named Susanne Morrison, just 19, ranted on her Facebook page that she was “sick of hearing” about Michaela's murder because she could not see “what makes her so special.”
The Belfast Telegraph reported that “Susanne also made other sickening remarks which we are not repeating.”
She claimed that Michaela’s honeymoon murder was a case of “karma” and that “what goes around comes around.”
She wrote, “Susanne Morrison is sick hearing about Makeala [sic] Hartes death!
“Thousands of people die terrible deaths every day through diseases and whatever so what makes her so special.
“Soldiers don’t get as much coverage as she has and they are risking their lives to protect us! Its about time this country got its priorities right!!!”
The incident shows once again there are two types of people in the world, those who can love and forgive and those who can’t.
Fortunately the former are in the vast majority these days in Northern Ireland.